19 Mar 2017

How To Make A Light Sponge

orange cakeHow To Make A Light Sponge

“Over the years I’ve been baking, I have tried just about every different combination of ingredients and methods for making what most of us call a ‘sponge’, and for the purposes of this book I went through it all again so that I could test some of the new fats and flours now available.

In fact, a true sponge cake contains no fat at all: it’s fun to make if you have the patience –  and makes you feel pretty smug when it works –  as the lightness is achieved simply by warming the egg yolks and beating them like hell until they fluff up. The taste and texture, though, to my mind is too insubstantial and a little dull – this recipe below is the culmination of all my attempts and is absolutely delicious and foolproof.

Although it’s an old-fashioned idea, I found that weighing the eggs and then using the same weights of fat, sugar and flour for the mix gave me the perfect proportions, but if you don’t have scales and are using a measuring cup or jug, then 175g of each will give good results. You can, of course, use all butter or all margarine but I found that spreadable butter was just the right half-way house; because it’s made with oil it’s lighter than butter, but has more taste than margarine (and much easier to work with). I found the most effective flour to be one of the best quality sponge flours: worth the little extra it costs, and no need to sieve! I tested it rigorously, and found that sieving made no difference at all: it’s the creaming of the butter and sugar that adds the lightness.

This method, below, of creaming the fat and sugar and then adding the other ingredients in various stages, is a little slower than the all-in-one, but it’s only a matter of minutes, and, with an electric mixer – which I thoroughly recommend – it’s extremely simple to do. It only looks like a long process here because I’ve been so chatty for anyone doing it for the very first time!”

– Jane Asher

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs.

The weight of the 3 eggs in:

  • Softened or spreadable butter (I like to use slightly-salted), castor sugar and a good quality, self-raising sponge flour (or 175g of each)
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 175C (160°C fan assisted, 350°F, gas mark 4) – the heat of the oven does need to be pretty accurate, and you don’t want to put your cake in until it’s hot enough
  2. Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat it hard with an electric mixer until it looks like whipped cream. Scrape any bits that escape up the sides of the bowl or onto the beaters back into the creamy mixture with a spatula, so that all of it is whipped up. Keep beating until the mixture is white – and when I say white, I mean really, really pale: you’ll see it turn into a beautiful creaminess that is very different from the colour and texture of the original ingredients. This is an important stage – it’s when you put all the lightness into your cake – and may take longer than you think
  3. Break the eggs into a cup, small bowl or small jug. Add the vanilla essence. Beat the mixture lightly with a fork to break up the egg yolks and to mix them up with the whites
  4. With the mixer motor running on full speed (or holding the handheld mixer in one hand), add the egg very gradually to the butter/sugar mixture: this is almost like making mayonnaise – it’s really worth taking time over it, as if you go too fast and the mixture curdles the finished texture just isn’t quite right. After all, you’re taking the trouble to make a beautiful home-made cake, so a little patience is well worth it at this stage
  5. Once all the eggs are in, add the flour (don’t bother to sieve it), bit by bit. To do this by hand, sprinkle about a quarter of the flour onto the mixture and, with a spatula or large, metal spoon, fold it in. This means gently persuading it to mix in by turning the spoon as you scrape down the side and across the bottom of the bowl and up and over the top again. The idea is not to flatten out all that fluffy airiness that you’ve beaten into the fat, sugar and eggs. Repeat with the rest of the flour. This also works perfectly well in the mixer either on slow speed or, even better if you have one, by using the pulse setting. The idea is to stop it landing in great dollops onto the creamy eggy cake mix, but to add it gradually, lightly and gently. And don’t be fanatical about this bit – a bit of ordinary stirring, unless you get really heavy-handed – is not going to do any harm at all.
  6. Once all the flour is mixed in, take the spatula or large spoon and scoop half the mixture into each of the two sandwich tins, being as even as you can by eye, but, again, not worrying about perfection (I have heard rumours of people weighing the two tins to check that they’re exactly the same… hmmmm!). It may seem as if there isn’t enough… but there is.
  7. Bake for 20-30 minutes, in the centre of the oven, until they are well risen and golden brown. To check they are cooked: either feel the top with your finger – a robust ‘springiness’ is what you’re after – or (probably safer if you’re not sure) slide a sharp knife blade into the centre, down to the bottom, and check if there is any slimy uncooked mix on it when you pull it out. If not – and the knife looks clean or has simply a crumb or two on it – then you know it’s done.
  8. Leave the cakes in the tins to cool for a couple of minutes or so.
  9. Check that they are not stuck to the tins, by sliding a small plastic spatula round the edge of each cake (or you may be able to see that they have already shrunken away from the side), then turn each one upside down.

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